When Your Church is a Hate Group
Growing Up in a Southern Baptist Culture of Hate, Sexual Abuse, and Conversion Therapy
I grew up in church. A lot of us, even in the LGBTQ+ community, grew up in church. But I feel like that is a gross oversimplification of what being part of the church was to my family at the time. We were at church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Monday night, Wednesday night, and for a good chunk of the year during Upward basketball season Saturday too. Four out of seven days of the week I was in church. It didn’t matter, if the church had something going on our family would be there. From worship services, to potlucks, to plays, to youth parties, to camps, to basketball, to revivals and concerts and everything in between being at this church was our life. We didn’t even live close to this church. But being at church, and driving 30 minutes each way just had to be done, Jesus was at work there was what we were told.
But in the midst of it all, Faith Baptist Church was doing the unthinkable and horrid atrocity that can be done. The church was employing a man that was abusing and molesting children, Clyde Way, who now resides in Albermarle, NC and is on the national sex registry served as Youth Pastor at Faith until 2005. Not only were they hiding a pedophile that was abusing children, they were then running Celebrate Recovery groups that combated addictions such as homosexuality and “gender-confusion” too.
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First, Clyde Way, this man abused way more people that just the children he was arrested for in North Carolina at Fort Caswell. His antics were known all through Faith yet nothing was ever done. He was the only adult leader that didn’t bunk with other adult men. He usually would bunk with 2–3 “at-risk” teens to help mentor them. I will never forget what I saw at Centrifuge in 2003, and what I should I have reported then at North Greenville College, but sexual trauma causes many of us to be frozen with fear, and we also have a fear of seeing the abuser again.
I was not out in high school. For various reason, one of which was the church I grew up in, two was there were no tools for me to explain it to my parents. Transgender people were still relegated to Maury Show episodes titled Is it a Man or Is it a Woman?. I was terrified of coming out in the early 2000s as a kid, so I hid. This night in 2003 would also remind me why I hid, because the church I attended was disgusting and the abuse would only be worse.
It was the third night of the camp. At this point pranks usually were at the highest, and two kids tried to break into my brother and I’s room and steal our stuff. So we sprayed sunscreen in their eyes, and were reprimanded by Way for not understanding “fun” and would have to miss free time and stay with him that night. The two kids were two of his favorite boys. Nothing was mentioned at the fact they had threatened to physically harm my brother and I. No, we were the problem, because we fought back. That night we had to spend with Way in his room, and a couple of other kids. One of the kids was a student that didn’t want to use the showers without having his swimsuit on. A smart idea for public showers among multiple other kids from other states that you have never met. However, this was also apparently a problem for Way. Way liked to walk from his room to the showers and back nude saying how great it was to be naked. He would also get in the shower, and shower next to us minors naked and show us how he was scrubbing his body, and say, looks it’s fine, just get naked and shower with me. But this night he took it even further.
We were sitting in his room, and of course as the night went on we shared some sodas together as a small group, and even played some card games. Now there were some younger middle schoolers there and Clyde Way decided well it’s late enough to talk about that, that being puberty. He said I know some of you are afraid to shower naked here at camp, and it’s probably because your bodies are changing. At this he begins to take off his shirt.
He goes on about how chest hair is normal and you need to start using deodorant. Then it gets sicker. He starts taking off his pants. As we are sitting there he says, you also start to have changes down here pulling his boxers waistband away from his body and then he sits there with just his boxers on. He then gets up and comes closer to one of the boys, and starts to pull his boxers down, he starts showing us all his pubic hair, saying this is what a man’s dick will grow. He then says we can reach out and touch him if we want. At this I jump up, and run from the room. I don’t know what happened the rest of the night. But I do know a youth pastor asked and had young men feel his genitals and he asked me to after showing them to me and the others in the room.
I stopped wanting to be a part of youth group after that. All I could think was this man wants to have sexual encounters with children, and my church thinks LGBTQ+ people are the problem.
I told my parents I didn’t want to be part of youth group anymore because it wasn’t theologically deep enough. Honestly, I didn’t want to be part of the youth group because I had experienced sexual assault from the man that was supposed to help me not be trans, and be a man. I was terrified what could happen if I was in the same room with that man. Since I had told him about my trans identity what would he do? Would he make me dress up and act like a girl? I had no clue, I just needed to be away from him.
A few months later Clyde Way announced he was retiring from ministry in the fall of 2004. The church celebrated his decades of service to the church. Old youth group members now “missionaries” came back and told about how amazing he was and how they had inspired them in their journey. I wanted to ask but what else did he tell you and make you do? They played slide shows of the hero of the Navy turned saver of souls. They had a potluck dinner and party to send him off. Everyone was supposed to give a monetary gift and wish him well. I remember feeling sick at being forced to attend these events and seeing this man celebrated.
I wasn’t the only kid to experience this. Tons of other kids talked about Way going to middle school camp and asking kids if they wanted to watch him masturbate or to masturbate with him to learn techniques to “cum.” He would then lead a True Loves Wait rally later in the year after talking about the dangers of porn and masturbation. Other kids told me, and told other adults about Clyde Way and his perverted behavior. Way had a group of adults that surrounded him like a mafia don. If he did anything weird it was just Clyde acting like the youth, which makes him a good pastor for them. The church’s response when others reported him was throw a retirement party. Faith Baptist Church never did a thing to stop him. They sent a pedophile to North Carolina where he has preyed upon other kids with a wallet of bonus money and left over cakes.
But the hate and ignorance doesn’t end there. Dr. Clarence Byerly, although not a medical doctor, or biologist at all, decided to champion the churches anti-transgender charge writing a piece called Potty Politics which I don’t suggest you read.
Our family moved to a new community when I started the fourth grade. It was a tight, close-knit community where…
In this random jumbled piece the “education” pastor talks about being bullied as a kid in the bathroom, and wishing women could have come in with him as an introduction that leads to finally saying “The government is heavy-handedly forcing everyone to not discriminate on the basis of gender, declaring that anyone can use any restroom.” So I mean he starts off saying he wishes women could come into men’s bathrooms, but then saying he is upset anyone can use any bathroom? Also, this piece is coming from a man that worked with Clyde Way that entered men’s restrooms to molest and prey on kids in his own church and at church sanctioned events that he helped hide and cover up. He is also really mad that “we will have to start asking people what their preferred gender pronoun is so no one will feel discriminated against” because he was once bullied so now he wants to bully trans people. He goes on to say he actually fears the direction of his own church because “Our church is now marketing the “We Are For” slogan all over our neighborhoods, so that we are becoming known as being for the ‘gender-confused.’ ” So his church is marketing that they are “for” people, but being welcoming and inclusive to people isn’t cool with him? He rather they would be known for discrimination, intolerance, hate and child molestation I guess? Solid piece, we get it you hate trans people, and don’t want them at your church. Guess what, we don’t want to be there either. But why write this random and rambling piece?
Now Clarence here is also, or was, the contact person for Faith Baptist Church hosting Celebrate Recovery. Knowing that makes a lot more sense about why he was so angry about transgender people. He closes his little tirade with reasons and ways to disagree, confront and change the “gender-confused”. Well these tactics were in play at the church when I was there, and after because they hosted this Celebrate Recovery program that is also a conversion therapy and drug rehabilitation service. Faith Baptist church was using their funding to sponsor therapists to use their location and carry out “Christian” therapy for those that were “gender-confused” “sexuality-confused” or “addicted”. The everyday church member didn’t even know these counselors were on site, but I remember hearing youth leaders talk about recommending parents of queer kids be referred to them. Celebrate Recovery met every Sunday from 6–8pm, and they even had special events during Sunday night services where people would stand before us and tell us they had become “free of their chains or struggles”. As a kid I didn’t realize it, but I was watching poor souls paraded in front of me as healed of homosexuality because they had been a part of the churches abusive conversion therapy programs.
So Byerly writes his piece telling the church they must confront these issues no matter how “disgusting” they are. At the end of the day he finds trans people disgusting, but being friends with, and covering up child molestation is the Lord’s work.
This church has a history of abuse, and hate. I was a victim of sexual abuse, and still see many of these same men leading a church when they have crimes on their own hands.
At 33 I can now say that the church I grew up in, and that still meets is a hate group, and a church that houses sexual abuse. Many of the staff are still there that helped hide the things Clyde Way did every single day he was employed there. Before even going to camp I remember Clyde Way telling parents that he would help their sons get use to showering with other men, and that he walked around naked to make us all feel comfortable. How is that okay? How can you support that?
When I first spoke out about the things Clyde Way did while I attended my comments were removed from the church’s social media page, and reviews. I’ve been told by one of their current pastors Jeff Higgins, “my family is trash” on social media, and was threatened repeatedly by his wife. In a recent broadcast I was told the senior pastor joked about Higgins epic social media takedowns. Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Faith is a closed knit group of discriminatory and predatory individuals. In an era where we are naming evils I am naming the years of abuse I was forced to endure under their pastoral staff. I know others have been as well. I would just ask you to come forward, you don’t even have to be named.
Unfortunately my case won’t be heard because Maryland for another year in a row rejected the Hidden Predator Act that would remove limitation of reporting sexual assault. I’ve suffered with this image and abuse for years. If you have experienced this at Faith, or any church, you can speak out, hold this church and these churches accountable. Way was sentenced to 58 days in jail for his sexual assault in North Carolina and three years of probation that expired in 2018. He is living free in North Carolina when he should have served almost 19 years in jail. He has ruined more than 19 years and 58 days for many of us that grew up in churches and camps he attended.
As Faith continues forward with new paint, and glossy new marketing about what they are for, dark demons prowl it’s halls, and the evils they did will follow many of us until we die. They may be a church that is “for” a lot of things, all I will remember is they are “for” hiding sexual abuse and bigotry.